Baseball / Sports

New Philadelphia Phillies pitcher A.J. Burnett jokes with the media during a press conference in Clearwater Fla., on Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. (Peter Diana/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/MCT)

More optimism for Phillies' Aumont by way of Canada

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- When Phillippe Aumont stepped onto a mound for the first time during spring training, Larry Andersen worked on an adjacent field. Andersen glanced at the seven pitchers about to throw bullpen sessions, and the 6-foot-7 Canadian towered above them all.

Andersen viewed Aumont's maddening flashes of brilliance from a distance in his role as Phillies radio analyst. This spring, as a guest instructor, Andersen is charged with molding the younger arms.

He dashed that morning toward Aumont. Later, he explained why to the righthander.

"I saw you over there and I got so excited," Andersen told him. "You hadn't even thrown a pitch. You're standing upright! You're standing up tall!"

There is unbridled optimism for Aumont in these early stages of camp, an unforeseen development considering the Phillies ordered the centerpiece of the Cliff Lee trade to go home last September. Aumont pitched in 22 games last season, allowed more than two baserunners per inning, and exchanged criticism directed at former pitching coach Rich Dubee through the media.

A new staff presented a fresh start for Aumont. Bob McClure, who replaced Dubee, was quick to gauge Aumont.

"He's very hard on himself," McClure said. "He looks in the mirror and he's a perfectionist."

Aumont lives near the team's complex and visited McClure in January. The pitching coach noted differences in Aumont's mechanics from video he studied; the pitcher in front of him was more upright from the hunched delivery he employed in 2013. McClure asked Aumont where he felt most comfortable. "This angle," he said, and it was decided.

"He's 6-foot-7," McClure said. "Why do you want to be 5-foot-6? You know?"

Andersen is an echo. "You're 6-foot-7," he said. "Don't pitch like you're 5-foot-7. Stand up."

Aumont, the 11th overall pick in 2007, was at his best late in 2012 when there was little time to think. The Phillies reemerged as contenders for the second wild card. Aumont was thrust into a setup role. He thrived.

This spring's competition for bullpen jobs is strong. Aumont, 25, speaks with confidence.

"Nothing is going to stop me here," Aumont said. "I look around. There's nobody that's going to stop me. If they do, then good for them. But in my mind, I'm going to go to the end."

The staff, Andersen said, will stress positive reinforcement with Aumont. McClure thinks Aumont was trying to please too many people last season. He described Aumont as "over-analytical." And that is why Andersen's message to his pupil was rather straightforward.

"He just got so confused," Andersen said. "I said, 'You have to realize. Everybody else already does. You have to realize how good your stuff is. You have to believe in that. We already do. But you have to believe in that.'"

Patience for Gonzalez. There are no numbers by which Miguel Gonzalez can be judged, only brief throwing sessions with a screen between the pitcher and his teammates. The mysterious Cuban righthander has not impressed in those settings.

Sandberg stationed himself behind the cage Friday for the entirety of Gonzalez's live batting practice session. When asked for his observations, the Phillies manager did not issue a ringing endorsement of the $12 million pitcher.

"Well, a guy that is coming back from injury and hasn't pitched competitively for a couple of years, I know that we're using a lot of patience with him," Sandberg said. "That's really the biggest part of the strategy with him. So we'll see. We'll see how things go and how he progresses."

Extra bases. Righthander Jonathan Pettibone is scheduled to play catch Saturday to test his sore shoulder. He was injected with cortisone earlier in the week. ... Top prospect Maikel Franco practiced at first base before the day's workouts. Sandberg wants to see Franco play both first and third this spring. ... The Phillies and Braves plan to honor the late Jim Fregosi prior to the teams' March 5 Grapefruit League game at Bright House Field. Fregosi, the manager of the 1993 Phillies, spent the last 13 seasons as a special assistant to Atlanta's general manager.

(c)2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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